9th December 2001

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  • A bridge between two communities
  • From Lanka with love
  • More than a boss to us 
  • A bridge between two communities

    Ramya Ekanayake Naganathan

    I was deeply saddened to learn about the death of Ramya Naganathan a few weeks ago. However, it was an experience to attend the subsequent funeral services conducted according to Hindu and Buddhist rites rites of two great religions which most of us knew Ramya could identify with.

    I first met Ramya half a century ago in 1951 when my eldest brother-in-law got engaged to her younger sister, Mallika. Although, even at that time, Ramya, who was employed at Kegalle Post Office, had made an irrevocable decision to marry her fellow officer, Mr. Naganathan, she had been postponing her marriage for two reasons. Firstly, she wanted to make sure that her younger siblings, for whose education she was spending a major part of her earnings, would settle down before her marriage. Secondly, she was apprehensive about the reaction in her family towards her decision to marry outside her community. This was understandable because it was just three years after Independence when communalism, which destroyed the country a few decades later, was gaining ground.

    Eventually Ramya married Naganathan in 1955 in spite of opposition from her family. Although I along with my wife-to-be and a few forward-looking members of the extended family pointed out that this opposition was meaningless, it had little effect on stubborn members of the family. 

    However, as time passed, kinship ties re-emerged and in the mid-1970s with the marriage of my elder son to Ramya's elder brother's daughter, Naganathan became a familiar figure in family events. Slowly everyone in the family realised that by marrying outside the community, Ramya had done no harm whatsoever, other than enriching the family's heritage.

    It was fortuitous that the Naganathans arrived in Australia soon after most of my family settled down in Sydney. It offered us the opportunity to re-establish family ties and meet her a few times before her death.

    May Ramya attain Nibbana
    S. Piyasena

    From Lanka with love

    Charmian Toussaint

    Charmian Toussaint, one of the nicest human beings I have had the privilege of calling a friend for nearly 25 years, passed away on October 7 at her home in McLean, Virginia. She would have turned 75 on December 10.

    Charmian was the widow of an equally wonderful human being, the late Ambassador Donald Toussaint, who was the US envoy in Colombo from 1979 to 1982 and later the director of the Colombo Plan Bureau from 1985 to 1986. I had the joy of working with Don Toussaint on both of his tours of duty in Sri Lanka: during his stint as US ambassador I served as director of the USIS Cultural Centre in Kandy and as his special assistant during his sojourn as Colombo Plan director. I came to know Charmian and Don intimately during the years we worked together and built on this friendship over the years thereafter.

    Even after Don's untimely demise in 1986, Charmian and their children Micheline, Kathlyn and David kept in close touch with their countless friends in Sri Lanka a country for which the Toussaints had a very special affection.

    My family and I have also been the beneficiaries of this affection. In all of our visits to the US we never failed to meet Charmian and savour her gracious hospitality. On each of her post-1986 visits to Sri Lanka she never failed to drop in on us.

    It is but seldom that we encounter human beings of the calibre of Charmian and Don. They were truly the salt of the earth. They were the living embodiment of sincerity, decency and gentleness qualities not often seen today.

    When we saw Charmian over the Labour Day weekend at her home a few months ago, we noticed how ravaged she was by the illness she was suffering from. We then realised, sadly, that we may not see her again. 

    Charmian who was British by birth, received a doctorate in International Law from the London School of Economics. She had decided early on though that her career was going to be centred around her home. She was (happily) sufficiently "old fashioned" to believe that the role of a housewife and mother was significant enough to play it with enthusiasm and distinction. 

    Don and Charmian were tremendous "family" people. They always loved doing things as a family and never failed to encourage their children to move closely with their local friends in each of the countries they served in over the years. 

    Teaching English to the less privileged children in Sri Lanka was something that Charmian derived much satisfaction from. She never failed to spare a thought for this country and to wish it well. She played a significant role in the activities of the Washington-based Serendipity Group which is made up, for the most part, of US citizens who have an abiding affection for and an interest in Sri Lanka. She was most helpful in her own modest and quiet way to several Sri Lankan ambassadors and other Sri Lankan embassy officials who served in Washington.

    We are all so much the poorer for Charmian's passing and my family and I are bereft of a truly wonderful friend.

    Tissa Jayatilaka

    More than a boss to us

    Gilbert Herat Gunaratne

    It is with profound sorrow and a great sense of personal loss that we learnt of the death of Gilbert Herat Gunaratne, former Precedent Partner of Messers F. J & G. De Saram.

    Sir as we used to most respectfully address him was in reality more than a boss to us. He was our mentor, guide, philosopher and dear friend. On days that we attended courts and had to subsequently brief him on the proceedings, the discussions were not solely confined to court matters. He would always ask us how we were getting on and what he could do for us to make our lives that much happier. He shared in both our joys and sorrows and would never lose an opportunity to console or encourage us in our hour of need.

    He did not regard us merely as members of the staff, but as part and parcel of the establishment people with an identity of their own, who were contributors to the furtherance of the business and prosperity of the firm.

    A personality such as Mr. Gunaratne will be difficult to replace in today's world.

    We would like to say goodbye to you sir, in those famous words of Shakespeare.

    "Good night Sweet Prince;

    May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"

    Nilanthi Pieris,
    Preeni Dunuwila and 
    Yosani Demuni

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